I’m re-reading Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress after lo these many years. Many decades? Been a while.
I’m halfway though and find myself with random thoughts to post on revolution, dated science fiction, “rational anarchism,” and Life. So here goes.
I got the book to brush up on the refinements of cells-of-three systems for the manual on resistance Kit Perez and I are writing.
It’s helpful, but the revolutionaries in Luna end up subverting large parts of their practical cell structure because they have Mike to handle so much.
Mike, for those not familiar with the book, is a sentient computer (and a charmer). And one of four main characters.
The story details a revolution on the Moon (or in Luna, as the characters would prefer we put it). Luna, an Australia-style penal colony whose prisoners eventually become settlers, must first overthrow local Authority. Then its chief revolutionaries must persuade the Federated Nations of Earth (the source of that Authority) to take Luna’s independence seriously. There is no alternative.
The reasoning behind cells of three is definitively stated in the novel, as is the eternal dilemma of underground organizations: If you have good communications, you have poor security; the stronger your security, the more difficult communication becomes.
Kit and I are concluding that this may be even more true in the Internet Age. Cells of three remain as good a way as possible to avoid the worst pitfalls.
Heinlein’s attitudes toward women are (and were, even back then) ludicrous — a combination of embarrassing sexism, profound respect, and total cluelessness. He wrote several books with important, dynamic female characters, often exploring unconventional relationships. Not one of those fictional females ever came across as a realistic person.
I admit I had a hard time finding my way into the book because of the absurd way the author — and his protagonist Manuel O’Kelly Davis — regard one of the other lead characters, the fiery agitator Wyoming Knott. If I were a social-justice pecksniff, I do believe I’d be wanting to burn this book.
Yet Heinlein wrote Moon at a time (1966) when many SF writers barely noticed the existence of women other than as wives, stewardesses, nurses, and secretaries. He’s so far behind the times now that it’s hard to realize he was ahead of the times then.
Given that Luna was/is a penal colony with a 2:1 ratio of men to women, there’s also some justification for the incessant wolf-whistling at Wyoh and the endless comments on her pulchritude. Still grating, though.
Heinlein was also active when virtually the entire SF world saw computers getting bigger, bigger, bigger, and more centralized.
I read a lot of SF back in the day and I recall only one story (an Asimov juvenile) that mentioned a personal computer. But even Asimov missed that bus; the “computer” turned out to be a sabotage implement or a portable spy device. And no, not in the sense that those computers in our pockets are.
Heinlein’s world of 2075-76 also relies (heavily) on wired phones. And although it has surrogate motherhood, it lacks such modern tech as ultrasounds. You notice those things.
So those are the negatives about the book: grating sexism and dumb tech. (OTOH, without the big central computer, we wouldn’t have lovable, clever Mike, or this book. And that would be a great loss.)
Beyond those negatives, whoop-de-do is this still a grand story! And a friendly introduction to individual liberty, the techniques of raising a revolution, and the concept of “rational anarchism.”
The latter is the bailiwick of the fourth major character, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, philosophical mastermind of Luna’s revolution. But a philosopher who’s practical about everyday matters as we first see when he — theoretically a non-carnivore — asks for a serving of “that lovely pink salmon” when it’s really a juicy piece of ham. Hey, he’s been on the run and he’s starving.
Prof is one of the great characters of SF. And where Wyoh, Mike, and Mannie are all to various degrees impossible, Prof is a person libertarians and anarchists the world over could happily emulate.
Some “rational anarchist” quotes from the Prof have become freedomista currency:
“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
Here, have some more of the Prof’s wisdom. It was uncommon wisdom back then. Heinlein being ahead of his time once again.
Then there’s that term “TANSTAAFL.”
Heinlein also wrote in the naive belief that even the most hateful thugs of officialdom wouldn’t want to arrest or kill children. It would be too embarrassing to their authority. Too upsetting to those under their thumb.
Sigh. How times have changed.
One of Prof’s tenets (which I paraphrase because I didn’t bookmark it and none of the sites I checked considered it important enough to quote) is that a society that chooses to recognize and deal with facts will survive while a society that can’t face inconvenient realities is doomed.
I think of this as I watch young adults (or their parents) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on “education” whose prime teachings seem to be that
gender sex has no biological basis, that everyone who disagrees with them is racist, that males are surpurfluous at best and born evil at worst, that free speech is only for people with the correct opinions, and that they have a “right” never to hear an unpleasant word or have an “unsafe” experience.
I’ve written several times lately about the importance of relaxing in the midst of chaos, revolution, agitation, or whatever. Moon reminds us not to chill so thoroughly that we forget the need to resist.
It’s dandy to enjoy ourselves. It’s great to focus on preps and such personal things rather than constantly beating our heads against government. But let’s never forget that it’s also our mission to break tyranny, large or small, national or local, by resisting it. By saying no and hell no. By walking around it, tunneling under it, or soaring over it however we can.
Not just to live for our own sakes, but by doing so to screw up the tyranny works and eventually break them down.
Read this book. Re-read it if you haven’t in a while. Once you get past the absurd artifacts of its era, it’s a whopping story and a real inspiration.